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By Nela Riessova & Alis Lewis
An Oxford University graduate has died in Afghanistan in a suspected suicide, a day before his 30th birthday.
Captain James Townley of the Corps of Royal Engineers allegedly shot himself in the head while serving at a remote base in Helmand Province, before later succumbing to his injuries at Camp Bastion.
The Ministry of Defence has said that Captain Townley’s death was not thought to be the result of hostile action, although an investigation into the circumstances is continuing.
James Townley received a first-class degree in Engineering and Computer Science from University College and represented his college at rowing while he was at Oxford. He was a keen sportsperson and enjoyed a large variety of sports that included skiing, mountain-biking, kite surfing and sailing. Having rowed for his college at University, he later went on to row for The Royal Military Academy (Sandhurst) and his regiment.
After graduating and working as a tax associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Captain Townley attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in January 2007 before volunteering for Afghanistan. This was his third tour of the country.
In a statement released by the Ministry of Defence, Townley’s family said: “James was a wonderful, loving and caring son and brother. He was devoted to his girlfriend, Helen.
“He was our guardian angel and our hero. We were so proud of him. He touched every part of our lives and his loss has left a huge chasm that we can never fill.”
Major Spence McComb, Officer Commanding, 42 Field Squadron, 28 Engineer Regiment, said: “Nothing was too much for JT, he would always be on hand to help out his fellow officers or soldiers, he would never put himself first, and he was someone who could be relied on.”
Lieutenant Colonel Chas Story, Commanding Officer, 28 Engineer Regiment, said: “James was an exceptional officer, a great character and unbelievably clever.
“The regiment is devastated that such a bright light has gone out.”
His colleagues added: “[This] tragic loss has stunned the Regiment, and we are all trying to come to terms with this awful event.
He had many friends throughout the Corps and his loss will be deeply felt by all those who had the privilege of serving alongside him.”
Captain Townley was one of two British soldiers who died in suspected suicides last Friday, increasing the number of British fatalities for the week to four.
Hundreds lined the streets on Friday as Captain Townley, and Sergeant Jonathan Kups who died in a separate incident, were repatriated at RAF Brize Norton.
Lieutenant Colonel Jack Nicholson, Commanding Officer, 21 Engineer Regiment said “Captain James Townley was an enthusiastic professional and exremely likeable young officer who made friends easily. Back in Afghanistan for his third tour, he had worked hard to prepare for the deployment and was looking forward to getting to grips with the challenges that lay ahead.”
Major Garreth Dent, Officer Commanding, 4 Armoured Engineer Squadron, 21 Engineer Regiment commented: “Captain James Townley joined my squadron as we prepared for deployment to Afghanistan. His professionalism and keen intellect meant he made an immediate impression on us all, and in only a few short weeks he had become an integral part of our headquarters. Although I knew him for only a short time, it was long enough to understand that he was a dedicated and loyal engineer officer with a bright future ahead of him.” He added, “James was an ambitioius and driven individual who had great plans for the future and his career beyond this deployment. His loss will be felt keenly by all who knew him.